Local communities in seahorse conservation

By Khor Hui Min & Mohala Santharamohana
Photo by Mohala Santharamohana

We and fellow conservationists in Save Our Seahorses (SOS) are alarmed at the pessimistic outlook for the watery “grasslands” and the diverse flora and fauna, including seahorses, which co-exist or depend on them for their continued survival.

Unfortunately, seagrass meadows, once abundant, are slowly being decimated by coastal developments along seashores worldwide. This in turn, has led to the decline in threatened species living in the seagrass meadows, or which depend on them during part of their life cycles. In the Philippines alone, the seahorse population declined by 70% from 1985 to 1995. In Malaysia, the loss of seagrass meadows, which are nurseries for fish fry, has led to dwindling fish catch. According to villagers at Pendas, Johor, a fisherman could make an average of RM100 a day twenty years ago. Today, they are lucky to make that amount in a week.

SMohala-SOS Project Leader Choo with his students_assistants at Kg. Simpang Arang

SOS Project Leader Choo with his student assistants at Kampung Simpang Arang

Recognising the need for increasing effort in awareness and education among people about seagrass meadows and seahorses, besides other unique creatures that live therein, Marine SIG has committed itself to long-term conservation and protection of seagrass meadows in Malaysia, especially the threatened 40-hectare seagrass bed at the Sungai Pulai Estuary area in Johor.

We are happy to support and collaborate with SOS in the ABN-AMRO conservation project at the Sungai Pulai Estuary. The recent 24-25 November trip was indeed satisfying, because we had two seagrass survey workshops for the locals over the weekend. The workshop on 24 November was organised for the Pendas community, while the workshop on 25 November was organised for the Seletar community at Kg. Simpang Arang a little further away.

In this way, local communities become more aware of scientific data collection methods and gain more knowledge about their marine heritage. We are also thankful to the 15 MNS volunteers who participated in the workshops and seagrass surveys, including 5 who came all the way from Penang!

To date, not much is known about seahorses due to a lack of research data. The bigger species are estimated to live from 3-5 years while smaller ones, a year. What’s alarming is the future of seahorses is increasingly uncertain. Apart from contending with its natural predators such as rays, skates, crabs and tuna, seahorses are fast losing their homes.

You can play your part to preserve this intriguing animal. For example, never buy seahorse souvenirs and never attempt to raise a seahorse in a home aquarium. You could also volunteer with SOS. To sign up, log on to http://www.sosmalaysia.org. Alternatively, you could always e-mail us at khorhmin@yahoo.co.uk to know more.

The experience of wading in ankle, knee or chest high waters is one you will never forget. You will also add new skills to your repertoire, such as laying transect lines and assessing quadrants to identify seagrass species. So, we hope to see you out there at the seagrass meadows doing your part for conservation some time soon!